TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — State investigators from the agency that licenses contractors examined a Tampa home Friday, following complaints from the owner, who is locked in a dispute with the builder.

Agents from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) spent about an hour in and outside the East Caracas Street home. On Wednesday, the Tampa fire department was at the home investigating two fires that are now the focus of an arson investigation.

The fires were allegedly set about two days after an 8 on Your Side investigation into the home aired.

According to the November 2018 contract between owner Mary Browning and contractor Victoria Hopps, the project was scheduled to be completed “no later than 120 days” from the date of city approval of the plans.

The initial construction permit was issued on June 16, 2019, according to the City of Tampa.

Hopps, who has denied there are any problems with the craftmanship in the home, has blamed delays on Browning’s revisions and city permitting issues. Hopps filed a lawsuit against Browning, claiming she is owed nearly $91,000.

Browning, who denies she owes Hopps any money, said she paid Hopps and other contractors about $170,000. The original contract stated the initial cost of construction would be $165,000.

Browning said she hopes the state’s involvement impacts city investigators looking into code enforcement issues that include a lack of an inspection of the framing and the arson case.

“Maybe it will lead them in the right direction as to who’s really behind this. I think they were cowards,” Browning said, referring to the arsonists.

Members of the East Tampa community, including activist Cherylene Levy are also pushing for answers.
“If this was your mother, would you want this to happen to you?” Levy said. “I’ve asked city employees that and they don’t like it.”

Levy has driven to Tallahassee to talk with DBPR officials and also contacted the Florida Attorney General’s office. Locally, she and others are organizing contractors who are expected to volunteer to finish the house Browning has waited three and a half years for.

“I’m very angry right now because I think the city and the state has not done their part to help this elderly person,” Levy said.

Browning said she remains hopeful and determined.

“This is my home and I want to move in it as soon as possible,” Browning said. “Hopefully by my birthday.”

She will celebrate her 70th birthday next month. A new contractor has agreed to take over the project, but the first step will involve clearing the inspection issue involving the house’s frame.